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Coordinates: 39°16′49″N 76°36′25″W / 39.28028°N 76.60694°W / 39.28028; -76.60694

American Visionary Art Museum
Established 1995
Location 800 Key Highway
Baltimore, Maryland 21230
United States
Director Rebecca Hoffberger

The American Visionary Art Museum (AVAM) is an art museum located in the Federal Hill neighborhood at 800 Key Highway in Baltimore, Maryland. The city agreed to give the museum a piece of land on the south shore of the Inner Harbor under the condition that its organizers would clean up residual pollution from a copper paint factory and a whiskey warehouse that formerly occupied the site. It has been designated by Congress as America's national museum for self-taught art.

The founder and director of the AVAM is Rebecca Alban Hoffberger, a former psychiatric nurse who left her job to "trumpet the wonders of raw human creativity" [1]. She raised $7 million in six years from donors such as Anita Roddick. Designed by Rebecca Swanston and Alex Castro,[1] the museum was opened to the public on November 24, 1995.

AVAM has 55,000 square feet (5,100 m2) of exhibit space but has a permanent collection of only 4,000 pieces. The collection includes works by visionary artists Ho Baron, Clyde Jones, Vollis Simpson and Ben Wilson as well as over 40 pieces from the Cabaret Mechanical Theatre of London. Some of this work is displayed in a gallery on the first floor of the Main Building, throughout the James Rouse Visionary Center, and outdoors when new temporary themed exhibitions are being installed.

The museum has no staff curators, preferring to use guest curators for its shows. Rather than focusing shows on specific artists or styles, it sponsors themed exhibitions with titles such as Wind in Your Hair and High on Life. Hoffberger takes pride in the fact that AVAM is "pretty un-museumy" [2].



Its educational goals are another example of the museum's unorthodoxy. They include:

  • Expand the definition of a worthwhile life
  • Engender respect for and delight in the gift of others
  • Promote the use of innate intelligence, intuition, self-exploration and creative self-reliance
  • Confirm the great hunger for finding out just what each of us can do best, in our own voice, at any age
The art car


Hoffberger's rejection of academic scholarship and her refusal to follow tradition have upset prominent members of the art world. For example, Chicago art dealer Carl Hammer said, "To open a museum of this magnitude, and the fact that no one had ever heard of her before... She totally ignored the rest of scholarship and just did it completely on her own. It gave people immediate bad vibes... The museum did things its own way, without coming to anyone else."[2] Despite this, the museum has won the support of collectors and the public through its exhibitions that examine the relationship of art to the human condition rather than to the canon of art history.

Community Involvement

AVAM sponsors Baltimore artistic events, including art car events and the annual East Coast Championship Kinetic Sculpture Race.


  1. ^ Dorsey, John & Dilts, James D., Guide to Baltimore Architecture (1997) p. 218. Tidewater Publishers, Centreville, Maryland ISBN 0-87033-477-8
  2. ^ Fine, Gary Alan, Everyday Genius (2004) p. 253. University of Chicago Press. ISBN 0-226-24950-6

Other Sources

  • Mansfield, Stephanie (April 19, 2000). The New Populism: Rebecca's World of Visionary Art and Big, Splashy Parties. New York Times, p. H22.

External links



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